From The Hobbit to Harry Potter, how fantasy harnesses the cultural power of magic, medievalism, and childhood to re-enchant the modern world
Why are so many people drawn to fantasy set in medieval, British-looking lands? This question has immediate significance for millions around the world: from fans of Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones to those who avoid fantasy because of the racist, sexist, and escapist tendencies they have found there. Drawing on the history and power of children’s fantasy literature, Re-Enchanted argues that magic, medievalism, and childhood hold the paradoxical ability to re-enchant modern life.
Focusing on works by authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Susan Cooper, Philip Pullman, J. K. Rowling, and Nnedi Okorafor, Re-Enchanted uncovers a new genealogy for medievalist fantasy—one that reveals the genre to be as important to the history of English studies and literary modernism as it is to shaping beliefs across geographies and generations. Maria Sachiko Cecire follows children’s fantasy as it transforms over the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—including the rise of diverse counternarratives and fantasy’s move into “high-brow” literary fiction. Grounded in a combination of archival scholarship and literary and cultural analysis, Re-Enchanted argues that medievalist fantasy has become a psychologized landscape for contemporary explorations of what it means to grow up, live well, and belong. The influential “Oxford School” of children’s fantasy connects to key issues throughout this book, from the legacies of empire and racial exclusion in children’s literature to what Christmas magic tells us about the roles of childhood and enchantment in Anglo-American culture.
Re-Enchanted engages with critical debates around what constitutes high and low culture during moments of crisis in the humanities, political and affective uses of childhood and the mythological past, the anxieties of modernity, and the social impact of racially charged origin stories.